While sharing an online appeal can be of great help in quickly recovering a missing person, there are many pitfalls to take into consideration. Not only is it hard to tell if the information is accurate, many missing person appeals that circulate on the internet are often outdated. “On the internet, a missing person case can be a never-ending story”, says Pablo Orrantia of AMBER Alert Europe member Vosteuskadi. The Spanish NGO aims to be the central point of information for citizens in emergencies, such as missing person cases.

“On the internet and in the media it is often hard to find reliable information, that is why we want to be that credible source for citizens in Spain, and especially in our region: Basque-Country”, explains Orrantia. “When it comes to missing person cases, we work together with El Centro Nacional de Desaparecidos (CNDES), the Spanish National Centre for Missing Persons, to verify information on missing persons. This is always done before sharing it with the public via our social media, WhatsApp and Telegram.”

Use reliable sources

Orrantia also advises the public to be careful when sharing information on missing persons. “Always check whether the missing person appeal comes from a reliable source such as an official law enforcement website before you share it. Many missing person appeals coming from unofficial sources are fake, years old or even possibly spread by perpetrators who are stalking or harassing someone. In the past, there was a case in which the husband reported his wife missing, but in reality, she was fleeing domestic violence.”

Actively fight hoaxes

Vosteuskadi makes it its mission to actively fight these hoaxes (Spanish: Bulo). “People can report false information to us. We will investigate it and rectify it if necessary. These rectifications are shared with the public via all of our channels. We also have a team that constantly scans the internet for false information. For example, several times a year we come across a missing child appeal for a little girl that has supposedly been missing for over 12 years. It is always the same picture but the place of disappearance keeps changing. This is bulo.”

Erase personal information right away

Part of providing people with accurate information is updating this information when necessary. “When a missing person has been found, we send messages to ask the public and the media to erase all pictures of that person, as well as personal information, immediately”, says Orrantia. “If the appeal keeps circulating online once the person has been retrieved, it can be very detrimental, as it might cause the person harm later on in his or her life. Which we, of course, want to avoid at all costs.”

Learn more about Vosteuskadi via https://www.vosteuskadi.org/